Russ Ringsak

Notes before skipping town

November 3, 2003

A light snowfall comes on as I am packing for the first road trip of the new season. It is a most luxurious move, to bail out of Minnesota at the very earliest little dusting of flakes. It seems so panicky, so craven, that it's almost an act of courage, knowing the incoming flak one can expect. And that's an easy thing to turn around, too, by not saying anything at all. You don't make excuses, don't explain, don't offer smirky condolences to those who will stay and deal with winter. You keep quiet, maintain a contented look on your face, and then you go to the truck and you're gone, heading for Virginia where it is close to 80 degrees and it's not snowing. And you will find that no one will hold it against you when you get back.

But packing for a truck trip is, at least for me, a lot more complicated than flying or heading out on vacation. You have your usual clothing and toothbrush issues and then all the truck stuff. You need a log book and trip records, and for that you need pens; and you need a CB radio because if you don't have one you can drive unknowingly into a four-hour backup at some big crash up ahead, which happens about once a season. For the radio you need a couple of fuses and some adapters, because the hookups on the trucks we rent come in a lot of variations and it seems like every time you go to wire it up you short it out on something and there goes the bleepin' fuse. And you also need to bring some adaptors for the antennae hookups for the same reasons. We also need truck signs and the duct tape to stick'em on the door with, and a scissors to do a neat job of it. I had two made last year and they don't look that bad, if you put'em on straight.

You bring cash and a bunch of envelopes to hold your receipts, one for each leg of the trip so the office knows how to bill their expenses when you get back. And if you've got cash you should have some way to secure it and we all have our different ways to do that, and for which the chain-drive wallet is a big help. Which reminds me that years ago I came around the corner of the trailer in a big truckstop parking lot and nearly walked into a pit bull, who was not friendly but who was on the taut leash of another driver. It dawned on me that a knife might be a useful item to keep available for an encounter of this sort, since I know personally four different people who have been attacked by free-range dogs right out there in public. Harley-Davidson jeans have a large watch pocket, big enough for a travel alarm, that will hold and keep handy a decent folding knife. It's not necessarily the ultimate protector of your person but it's a big step up from your own little teeth and fingernails, and it's a lot less hassle than bringing along your own pit bull.

Remember the watch and the Leatherman tool, and you need to bring a sleeping bag and a pillow. The truck has a sleeper, a double bunk in fact, but it's not furnished and there's no maid service. And I'm embarrassed to say it took me all these years to appreciate what a useful invention is the electric shaver, and few more years to be persuaded into the electric toothbrush. My dad used an electric razor and it took me forty years before it sank in how handy that could be. Spend less time in front of the mirror and get on the road earlier. Another useful timesaver is short hair. You can get it at nearly any barber shop or stylist and it keeps you from looking like a stooge when you wake up from sleeping in the truck. Keeps you from that moment when you look in the mirror after having breakfast in a crowded place and see that your hair is sticking out in three contrary directions and looks like it houses small rodents, and you wonder how the other drivers all kept from hooting out loud at you. If you can't get short hair get a cap. I recommend one that's smudged and says CAT on it.

You need maps. Maps of the whole enchilada and maps of each part, especially including the city. You want to see the street name of the address, because if you rely on directions from the front desk you are likely to be sent first to the person's home and from there to the hotel, since that's the only way they know how to get there, and that rig is not going to fit in that desk clerk's neighborhood. I know this from bitter experience. Stop at the truckstop and get the city map. You don't need this in the car, but it's still a handy thing to have. I have maps of nearly every city in the nation and every state and all the regional maps, which is why I'm short on shelf space at home.

I bring a mini tape recorder and a small point and shoot camera to chronicle whatever seems useful. This means more stuff to keep track of, like cassettes and film and batteries. Plus a laptop and its power supply and a disc drive for the laptop and its power supply. And all the cable to hook it up and get on line. And of course a cell phone and the power supply for that. A person needs tunes and that means a CD player and a bunch of discs, and packets to haul them in, and more batteries. You end up with about twenty small pouches and cases, every one of them absolutely critical to the mission.

You don't want to forget the cooler and a bag of ice. Keep your Snapple and your Diet Dr Pepper cold and fizzy, or your Arizona Iced Tea or whatever it is that keeps your outlook cheerful while slogging through the rain on the Interstate. And if you can remember all of this, plus your sunglasses, your gloves and your vitamins, then you're doing a whole lot better than I do.

A local goodhearted woman was cleaning the basement of her house this weekend and dislodged a Have-a-Heart trap from atop a pile of stuff on the workbench. It fell and caught the last joint of her ring finger, splitting the skin on top and causing a sudden painful swelling and a big blood blister underneath. Another of life's cruel ironies, to have a finger smashed by a Have-a-Heart.

The trap was there because she had ongoing problems with squirrels, whom she would lure in with peanut butter and who, once behind the one-way door, were taken on a little trip across the river to Wisconsin to be secretly and permanently relocated.

A friend who lives in Wisconsin told me the exact same thing happens over there, and not just with squirrels but with raccoons and opossums as well. We are engaged in a pest exchange program here, very similar to our exchange of college students. In Madison a crowd of five thousand young persons became unruly and some smashed windows and uprooted trees after a Halloween party last week, and hundreds of rioters here at the U of M in Minneapolis burned cars and set other fires last spring; how many of the participants arrived through the Have-a-Heart program is hard to say, but it's probably a fairly equal reciprocity.

Informal pest exchange programs are likely in place in other river-border states, like Kansas and Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa, Arkansas and Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky. It puts crossing rivers in an interesting new light, wondering how many of the vehicles crossing with you, in both directions, are carrying a Have-a-Heart immigrant in the back. You wonder how many of them have figured it out -- that if they go into that trap they get peanut butter and they also get a ride back to their other home across the river.

My personal approach to the situation, which would be the truck driver's solution and would of course not be relevant here, would be to forget the trap and simply assume the squirrel would rather be in heaven than in Wisconsin.

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